The Obama administration’s plan to create a Pentagon Cyber Command to conduct both defensive and offensive cyberwarfare is arousing concern about potential threats to privacy and civil liberties.
A new report in the New York Times warns that even though President Obama has promised that protections will be built into the cyberdefense strategy, such protections will be difficult to implement in practice.
“Much of the new military command’s work is expected to be carried out by the National Security Agency, whose role in intercepting the domestic end of international calls and e-mail messages after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, under secret orders issued by the Bush administration, has already generated intense controversy,” the Times explains. “There is simply no way, the officials say, to effectively conduct computer operations without entering networks inside the United States, where the military is prohibited from operating, or traveling electronic paths through countries that are not themselves American targets.”
The establishment of a Cyber Command first became a source of controversy when it was announced in April. One of the most chilling assessments was in an article at GlobalResearch, which spoke of “billions of dollars already spent on a score of top secret initiatives, included those hidden within Pentagon Special Access (SAP) or black programs” and warned direly that “NSA has positioned itself to seize near total control over the country’s electronic infrastructure, thereby exerting an intolerable influence—and chilling effect—over the nation’s political life.”
Although the article’s conclusion that cybersecurity is nothing more than a “euphemism for keeping the rabble in line” is not widely shared, even the experts interviewed by the Times expressed unusually strong fears of a threat to civil liberties.
Peace activist Frida Berrigan – the daughter of renowned Vietnam War protester Philip Berrigan – told the Times of her concern that “if the Pentagon and the military services see cyberspace as a battlefield domain, then the lines protecting privacy and our civil liberties get blurred very, very quickly.”
Even defense expert Maren Leed – a former assistant to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – suggested that a broad national debate should be undertaken to define the line between acceptable and unacceptable intrusions into email and other private information. Leed emphasized that although the military and intelligence agencies may be best equipped to detect and ward off cyberattacks, “they are not the best suited, from a civil liberties perspective, to take on that responsibility.”